Sixty-five years ago the first ever Tony Award was presented to eleven individuals for their work as actors, directors, costume designers, choreographers and composers in the theater world during the preceding 1946-47 season. In addition, eight individuals were recognized with special awards including Arthur Miller (for Best Author) and Vincent Sardi, Sr., founder of the eponymous restaurant that he opened in 1947 which has been credited as being the birthplace of the Tony Award.
The Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theater (that’s the official name of the Tony), were first handed out on April 6, 1947 in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The winners received a scroll and a silver compact case for the women; and either an engraved gold money clip or a cigarette lighter for the men. Following along at home was only possible thanks to Radio Station WOR, as the ceremony would not be broadcast on television until much later in 1967.
And just who was Antoinette Perry? Antoinette Perry (1888-1946) was an American actress, director and co-founder of the American Theatre Wing. She produced several successful plays in partnership with Brock Pemberton, a press agent from New York, with whom she was linked both professionally and romantically. Their most famous production was Harvey based upon the Mary Chase novel. In 1939 Perry, along with Rachel Crothers, founded The American Theatre Wing (the Wing for short) in Manhattan, an organization whose mission statement proclaimed it to be “dedicated to supporting excellence and education in theatre.” During WWII the Wing established the Stage Door Canteen to entertain American servicemen and then later, after the war, founded the Community Players to assist war veterans and their families as they returned home.
During the extended Broadway run of Harvey -- it ran for more than 4 years and was staged for 1775 performances before closing in January 1949 -- Perry died from a heart attack one day after her 58th birthday. Subsequently, Brock Pemberton suggested to the Wing that they create a series of awards to be given in her honor -- an idea he came up while having lunch at Sardi’s. Pemberton would go on to host the very first award ceremony during which he coined the now much more common name “Toni,” when he referred to his nickname for Perry while handing out an award to a recipient.
The times have changed. This year the Tony Awards ceremony will be held at the Beacon Theater in NY for the second year in a row after 50 years at the Waldorf Astoria and more than a decade-long run at Radio City Music Hall. Televised nationally since 1967, the awards still signify achievement in live Broadway theater but the compacts and cigarette lighters have given way to a more substantial award that features a base upon which the medallion, originally designed by Art Director Herman Rosse, rests. Tony Award producers swear they are not trying to keep up with the Joneses… or in this particular case, the Oscars… but that the new design is easier to handle onstage during the presentation of the awards.
Yes, times have changed… but some things never change. The Firehouse New Works Festival Committee should take heart: you are not alone! The Tony Awards Official Site lists the rules and regulations of the awards process and they too continue to have difficulty year after year in discerning the exact definition of a “new play!”
The Tony Awards not only recognize the contributions to the theater world for on-stage contributions but also for off-stage contributions. One of the newly created non-competitive awards recognizes an individual who has made substantial contributions of volunteered time and effort on behalf of one or more humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations.
It is here that that the Tony Awards and the First Annual Townie Awards intersect.
The Firehouse Center for the Arts is pleased to be able to present these awards to the local individuals and organizations that contribute selflessly of their time and resources to make our lives richer and more enjoyable here in our home town. We thank you and we salute you. The newly created Townie Award is a very small token of our appreciation for your efforts and for all that you do to make the North Shore area such a vibrant place to call home.
What? You still haven’t voted your favorite Townie? Click the Way-Off-Broadway Party logo now…voting ends April 23rd and the winners will be announced at the Way-Off-Broadway Party at the Firehouse on Saturday, May 5th.
Sponsorship opportunities are available. Click here for downloadable forms or call Beth Falconer, Director of Development at 978/499-9931 for more information and check the website often for updates to be posted as received. In the mean time... mark your calendars!